I Take the Bible too Seriously to Not Fact-Check Internet Quotations

This quotation, often attributed to Karl Barth, came across my feed on Facebook this morning:

“I take the Bible too seriously to read it literally.”

Whenever I try to trace a quotation to its source, especially if the source is famous, and what I find are pages and pages of just the quote with no actual source for it ever appearing, I get suspicious. That is what happened in this case.

I did find a Facebook page where someone said something similar – it wasn't Barth himself, though. Here is a sample of that:

I was asked how I defend not taking the Bible literally. Frankly, I take the Bible too seriously and love it too dearly to take it literally…No one really ever takes the Bible literally…

The real problem with literalism, however (its great heresy, if you will), is that it treats the Bible as a book. It’s not a book. It’s a doorway disguised as a book. For example, the purpose of the Gospel of Mark is not to provide information about Jesus or to find out his moral guidelines. The purpose is to meet Jesus. The purpose is to have a spiritual encounter with him through the text. If the Bible is just another book—even a holy book, it’s worthless. The authority is not in the text or the words or in it being sanctioned by the church. The authority is that we when we read it, we encounter the Divine.


That's from the Mesa Verde United Methodist Church Facebook page. I wonder whether they thought they were quoting Karl Barth. I wonder whether, if someone attributed their words to Barth, they would go viral.


And if they went viral, I wonder whether anyone would notice it wasn't an authentic Barth quote. And if they did, would they be able to get that point across, or would the quote continue to circulate with the false attribution regardless?

There are a lot of spurious quotations that circulate, and countless other forms of spurious information, whether about the Bible, science, politics, or anything else.

Take truth seriously. Trace information back to its source. Fact check. Please.


Because as Karl Barth famously said, “I take the Bible too seriously to believe everything that's said about it on the internet. And I take myself too seriously to believe every quotation attributed to me on Facebook.”


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  • spinkham

    For anyone else I’d agree. In this case it’s hard to tell: the man wrote enough words down the infinite monkey theorem might just apply to his work. 😉

    After a bit of digging on Google Books, I found the following:

    “Yes, indeed, I take the Bible too seriously to take it all literally”

    –Madeleine L’Engle, A Stone for a Pillow, 1986, page 80

    Not quite the standing as Barth, but at least it’s a legit quote.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      I think Madeleine L’Engle deserves credit where credit is due, even though she may well not have been the first person to write such a thing, for all I know. And perhaps Barth quoted her. I may try to make a meme image that attributes it to her, if I can find the time!

      • fr_eric_funston

        Did you ever do so?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

          No. Why don’t you make one, with a proper citation on the bottom, and then I can share it?

    • http://tracimsmith.wordpress.com/ Traci

      Hmm… If the internets are to be believed it seems that perhaps L’Engle thought she was representing Barth when she said this. I haven’t read her book “Her” but I see a few references to where she seems to state this: see: http://pollycastor.com/Polly_Castor/Pollys_Blog/Entries/2010/4/16_Book_Review__Madeleine_LEngle_(Herself).html

  • Georg Warnecke

    i’ve heard that quote from my theological teachers attributed to karl barth many, many years ago (in the beginning of the 80ies of the last century) when i studied theology in marburg – when the internet still was called usenet.
    maybe it was barth’s concubine – of which rumor circulated that she wrote the church dogmatics – who said it… 😉

    yet whoever said it imho was right…

  • Brad Bull